He sounded the alarm.
“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website. “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”
Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.
He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.
“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”
The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees. In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.
“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”
“Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”
Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.
The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."
Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.
"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"
Experts say nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill.
It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that.
Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.
If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.
So true. And now they are.
The neonicotinoid pesticides are creating quite a buzz in the bee world.
Research published this week in the Science journal zeroed in on the effects of the neonics on honey bees and bumble bees.
Science writer Eric Stokstad, in his news analysis headlined "The Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides," indicated that, bottom line, more research on pesticide testing and regulation is needed.
"Five years ago, bees made headlines when a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder decimated honey bee colonies in parts of the United States," Stokstad wrote. "Now bees are poised to be in the news again, this time because of evidence that systemic insecticides, a common way to protect crops, indirectly harm these important pollinators. Two field studies reported online this week in Science document problems. In bumble bees, exposure to one such chemical leads to a dramatic loss of queens and could help explain the insects' decline. In honey bees, another insecticide interferes with the foragers' ability to find their way back to the hive. Researchers say these findings are cause for concern and will increase pressure to improve pesticide testing and regulation."
Stokstad was referring to these two research articles published in Science:
1. Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production
2. A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees
Meanwhile, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is fielding calls about the research.
On Wednesday, Mussen talked to science writer Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times.
Here's her quote from her news story:
“There are a whole lot of things that stress the honeybees,” said Eric Mussen, a honeybee specialist at the University of California, Davis. “You can’t point your finger at one thing and say, ‘That is the problem.’ ”
Mussen cautioned against singling out neonicotinoids when other pesticides could have similar effects on bees. Besides, he said, many insects have built up immunity to neonicotinoids, so farmers are likely to switch to different pesticides anyway.
As Mussen has been saying all along, the declining bee population is due to a number of factors: pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
So, there's no silver bullet--no major culprit--that's causing the declining bee population. It's a multitude of factors. Scientists continue to investigate them all.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen talks a lot about the declining honey bee population.
After all, he's served as the Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976.
Over the last several weeks, however, he's been fielding scores of phone calls from the news media and delivering presentations to various groups. Last Tuesday, he addressed the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Pollinator Workshop in Woodland.
This morning he discussed bee health with a news team from KGO Radio, San Francisco.
Everyone wants to know how the bees are. Just as we greet folks daily with "How are you?" Mussen hears a daily "How are the bees?"
So, when the KGO news team telephoned him at 7 this morning, Mussen knew the topic: Bee health.
"Are we making any progress to finding out what causes colony collapse disorder (CCD)?" Mussen was asked.
CCD is a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive.
"I think things are a little bit better...but we don’t know what causes CCD," Mussen told KGO. "And what the beekeepers have found, however, is that malnutrition seems to be pretty important. One beekeeper told me that $45 invested in food for the bees--artificial food, you know because we can’t really substitute for pollen--made his bees considerably better.
"And the second thing they’re finding is that it seems to go in a two-year cycle. The young colonies don’t seem to have that so much of a problem but the second year ones do, so now what they’re doing is breaking those second-year colonies down into smaller ones starting them over again and keeping them young and that helps too."
Mussen believes that CCD is linked to multiple factors, including parasites, pesticides, diseases, malnutrition and stress. The end result: a compromised or weakened immune system.
Some folks finger a class of pesticides, the nicotine-based neonicotinoids, as "the cause" of CCD. Not "the cause," says Mussen.
When the KGO news team quizzed him about this systematic pesticide--how France banned it and then "saw a return of the bees within a year"--Mussen responded: "Well, by the same token, there were some researchers in France that took sugar syrup and laced it with sublethal doses of the particular chemical you’re talking about and fed it to the bees all year and those bees were fine that year, through the winter and then into the next spring."
At Tuesday's meeting in Woodland, Mussen cautioned that adjuvants (materials added by a pesticide applicator to a product "to make it work better") may be causing brood and queen-bee rearing problems. "Adjuvants--especially the organosilicone 'superspreaders'--seem to make non-toxic fungicides toxic to honey bee brood," Mussen said. 'These superspreaders can penetrate the waxy cuticle on Eucalyptus leaves. And the No. 1 bee protection is their waxy cuticle."
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation demand acute toxicity tests before a pesticide is marketed, still there are concerns, Mussen told the Woodland crowd. For one, the contact/ingestion studies last only 48 hours and "that's too short of a time period" to see what happens to the bees. "Sublethal effects are not required, chronic exposure to sublethal doses is not required, and synergism is not studied," he said.
Look for him to expand on the issue in his next from the UC Apiaries newsletter, available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, is quoted in a Dec. 6 article in the Epoch Times about colony collapse disorder (CCD).
CCD is the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood, and food stores.
The gist of the Epoch Times article: The European Commission recently published its concerns about honey bee health.
In a communiqué, the commission sought to clarify the key issues related to bee health and key actions that it intends to take to address them.
"Beekeeping is a widely-developed activity in the European Union (EU), both at professional (keepers with over 150 hives) and hobby level," the communiqué began. "There are around 700,000 beekeepers in the EU out of which around 97% are non-professional accounting for around 67% of EU hives. Honey production is estimated to be close to 200,000 tons. Beekeeping is also associated with the production of other products such as wax, royal jelly, propolis, etc."
Epoch Times reporter Marco 't Hoen subsequently sought out Mussen for information on CCD and honey bee health in the United States. Mussen told him that CCD is a worldwide problem.
Twenty-five percent of beekeepers in the United States have recurring problems with CCD, Mussen said. The colonies range in size from one to 15,000.
Wrote the reporter: "He (Mussen) believes that in the U.S., CCD is caused by an infectious disease, which they have not yet identified. His reasoning is based on the fact that when bees are introduced to replace the dead one, they die as well. But when the hive is cleaned properly the new bees can survive."
Indeed, CCD is linked to multiple causes, including diseases, pests, pesticides, malnutrition and stress. Weakened colonies don't fare well.
The Epoch Times article quoted USDA statistics indicating that bee pollination of crops "is worth $15 billion per year" in the United States. For example, "the almond industry in California alone used about half of the 2.3 million colonies in the country in 2009 for pollination." In the European Union, about 700,000 beekeepers maintain almost 14 million colonies, according to the EC communiqué.
As an aside, U.S. beekeepers are now gearing up for the California almond season, which usually starts around Feb. 1. The state has more than 700,000 acres of almonds and each acre requires two hives for pollination. Since California doesn't have that many bees, bees are trucked here from all over the country.
It's a gold rush of sorts in the Golden State.
California, here we come!
The news is not good.
The honey bee crisis is worsening.
Back in November of 2006, commercial beekeeper David Hackenberg of Pennsylvania sounded the alarm. Fifty 50 percent of his bees had collapsed in Florida. Other beekeepers came forward with equally bad news: some individuals reporting losing one-third to 100 percent of their bees.
Quickly referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomenon is characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, flying off and leaving behind the queen bee, brood and stored food.
Fast forward to today: a federal survey shows a heavy bee dieoff this winter, and research published last Friday in the journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) shows an alarming number of pesticides found in pollen and wax samples from 23 states and a Canadian province.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, agrees that bees are in trouble and the declining population is worsening. Scores of beekeepers have reported opening hives and finding them virtually empty.
Meanwhile, another federal survey on bee winter losses will take place April 1 through April 14. That should shed more light on a darkening crisis.
Perhaps CCD is due to a yet undiscovered virus. Perhaps it's due to a combination of factors: pesticides, diseases, pests, viruses, malnutrition and stress.
"Unexpected, periodic losses of honey bee colonies, very similar to this, have been noted in the bee journals since the late 1800s, but they tended to be very short term," Mussen says in his March 19th Bee Brief, published on the UC Davis Entomology Web site. "In 1965, 66, and 67 a similar problem persisted for three years. Our current session is the longest yet."
"The intensity of research on possible leads to the causes of CCD is increasing around the world, as other countries are having similar losses in their honey bee colonies," he writes in his Bee Brief. "The global nature of the problem suggests that some other, more fundamental aspect of the environment may be involved. Honey bees prosper best and are best able to resist diseases, parasites, exposures to toxins, etc. when they have fed on a quality diet.
"For bees in general, and honey bees in particular, that means a constant supply of pollens that provide their required proteins, vitamins, lipids, sterols, minerals, antioxidants and carbohydrates. While global warming may not directly challenge a species of insect that can prosper from very cold climates to the equator, climate change may result in more stress on the bees. Increased periods of dry, hot weather or cold, rainy weather, could limit availability and access to those important pollens. The bees will have to rear their brood at the expense of their body nutrient reserves. The brood will be less well fed, and in turn will not be good at rearing the next 'round of brood.' "
That sort of downward spiral, Mussen says, will leave the bees very fragile and susceptible.
The MAAREC Web site (Mid-Atlantic Apiculture and Extension Consortium) hosted by Pennsylvania State University, offers latest updates on the crisis.